I mailed this off to Kurt Vonnegut in November of 2006. I can't be sure whether he received it, but reading it now I'm damned glad that I sat down and wrote it.
San Francisco, CA 94123
November 16, 2006
c/o Donald C. Farber
Jacob Medinger & Finnegan, LLP
1270 Avenue of the Americas, Rockerfeller Center
New York, NY 10020
Dear Mr. Vonnegut,
I think you will enjoy this coincidence: I, too, was a student of Chemistry at Cornell University and my father, like yours, was an architect. Perhaps this makes you and I, your father and mine, merely ‘granfalloons,’ but I would prefer to think of us all as members of one ‘karass.’
One thing is for certain: I have enjoyed the hell out of what you’ve put into your books.
Because I savor your words and admire you so greatly, a girl that I love sought out your correspondence address and gave it to me, hoping I would write you. So here is that letter: an adoring piece of mail from a member of your grandchildren’s generation.
I must have grown up in a shoebox, for I did not I discover your books until two years ago. I was twenty-two and I was baking small batches of inedible, white powders in Ithaca, New York. Truly, I had had it up to my eyeballs with the study of chemicals and with snow. So I was on the verge of quitting Cornell myself when I came upon Cat’s Cradle.
I ate up Bokononism, your gentle iconoclasm, and your resigned, fatalistic sense of humor. The novel spoke to me in a familiar language. It hummed and whistled as if it had been written it for my audience alone, which is, I now realize, the trademark of your style.
After reading many of your other novels and wandering through mazes of your well-constructed mousetraps, I’d like to tell you that the lens I have on the world has been refocused. At twenty-four, I suddenly appreciate my life as an adventure, and I find an identity as a humanist: sensitive to and fascinated by morality in human existence.
After earning my Master’s Degree in August, and with no intention of working in a laboratory again, I set off to California and have since started writing. I doubt that the prose will amount to much, but damned if it isn’t nice to read something I’m proud to have written.
If I may, I’d like to suggest one amendment to your observation that most great writers have been alcoholics, as you state in your book, Fates Worse Than Death. I believe that many great writers (you might include yourself in this lot) have also smoked cigarettes. Who could have better perspective on life, after all, than a smoker taking frequent breaks from it to light up outside?
I do not smoke. No one lit up near me when I was an impressionable twelve years old, or I probably would have. Thanks to your work, though, I do aspire to write fiction. I guess if it ever finds its way into print I will discredit my own theory.
I suppose an American politician will never assign his constituents new middle names, unite them under one egalitarian religion, or ensure each some enduring, purposeful employment. Entropy, and the conceit of individuals – as you’ve called them: ‘winners’ – will prevent our large society from achieving that kind of utopian order. Even so, I wish that a candidate would run for an influential office on your platforms, or at least keep your morals in mind while governing. We could easily do worse.
What you have accomplished, in any event, is to affect thousands of individuals like myself – Elliot Rosewaters, if you will – which might truly be the best you could have hoped to do.
Should I not hear back from you, let me say this: Thank you for sharing your visions. They are comforts from a wise friend.